Choosing Your Perspective

Welcome to Part 10 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

The panel description was as follows: What options does a writer have in choosing the point of view for their narrative? What kinds of stories are best suited by first-, third-, and even second-person narration? What are some ways that you can combine them, and when should you?

The panelists were: Ada Palmer (as moderator), Meriah Crawford, Jo Walton, and L. Marie Wood.

All stories have a voice and a point-of-view — or POV.

Voice

Voice sets the tone and the attitude, often alluding to a certain social class, a time period, and location.

While describing a room or a fight scene, some writers are lyrical and highly descriptive, while others are short and terse. In this bit of the narration, that’s neither character thoughts, nor dialogue, the level of voice can vary tremendously. Some are neutral, but descriptive, some are judgemental, and some are mocking. Descriptors and creative analogies can go a long way toward creating completely different tones.

Point of View

For the point-of-view, you can have first person — “I ate the cookies”, second-person — “you ate the cookies”, or third person — “She ate the cookies.”

The point-of-view character is who the story’s narrative is following. Plenty of writers switch between characters. It is up to the writer to decide how far into the character’s thoughts they wish to delve.

First Person

First person point of view is intimate, but that doesn’t require the writer to delve into the characters minds, they can choose to simply share the character’s actions and sensory inputs. It’s often used in YA, memoirs, literary fiction, and romances.

Second Person

Second person point-of-view is often seen as gimmicky. If the ‘you’ in the story reacts in a way unnatural to you, it can easily throw ‘you’, as the reader, out of the story. Now, news stories and discussions of trauma are often told this way, and it often feels natural to many people when writing reflective pieces.

Plus, of course, you’ll find second person used in those choose your own adventure stories and games.

In a mix of first and second person point of view are stories told to a specific person, “oh, daughter, when I was your age” or “dear reader, you may think… .” The panelists decided we’d call these “addressee second person.”

Third Person

Third person point-of-view has a huge amount of variety and thus is often the default POV. You can be as intimate and as zoomed in as first person, or you can have an omnipotent narrator, who knows all — past, present, and future. If you play video games, it’s the difference from a view right behind the character you’re controlling/following the plot of, and looking at the full map as everything plays out.

Warnings

Cultural norms change. Twist reveals of “he was secretly gay” or “the main character was a woman” aren’t so surprising or novel.

Head-hopping or switching POV characters mid-chapter is challenging to do smoothly.

Ways To Use Points of View In Your Story

As with switching between point-of-view characters, some writers switch between points-of-view entirely, such as using first person with a main character and third person with a secondary character. Often used in thrillers, to hide the identity of the killer. Switching between POVs can also make a section stand out, so if you want to switch tones, that can help. To either make it more intimate, or to back up a little, so the reader can rest and absorb before the plot picks back up again.

While the story is carrying us along, there’s always the choice to create an unreliable narrator in any voice. There’s a huge difference, though, between a character who doesn’t know the truth, and one who is lying to the audience. If you want an unreliable narrator, it’s best to have a good reason.

On the flip side, you can always have the narration, or use a secondary point-of-view character give the readers information that the main point-of-view character doesn’t know.

Some good examples of this are: Haircut by Ring Lardner Jr., Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, or The Strange Case Of Jekyll and Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Now, there are other points-of-view writers have used, typically as an exploration of a concept — first person plural — “We are going to the store”.

Plus, there’s always the use of epistolary text — traditionally, a story told through letters, now used with articles, chat logs, and faux-book excerpts. This faux-documentation is also a great way to add world building and introduce new information, without needing to introduce a new point of view character.

There are a variety of ways one can combine both voice and point-of-view to create a story that resonates.


What is your favorite point-of-view?

Do you like to write something different than what you prefer to read?

Any tips I missed?


Thank you for reading. I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips and writerly musings.

There is No Finish Line: Momentum for Writers

Welcome to Part 8 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

Experienced writers who have been on the roller coaster for a while know the big secret: you never really “make it.” Just because you’ve sold one book doesn’t mean you’ll sell the next one, and just because you didn’t sell the last one doesn’t mean the next one won’t hit big. Our panel offers tips and strategies for maintaining the will to keep creating.

The titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54 consisted of panelists Joshua Bilmes (as moderator), D.H. Aire, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott Edelman, and L. Marie Wood


Of all the panels I hit at Virtual Balticon, this is literally the one I’ve been wrestling with the most. Especially this month, but honestly, everytime I get rejected. I want to look at my work and see what I can do better.

When we talk about momentum for writers, we’re talking about when things are going well, versus productivity grinding to a halt. We’re talking the long term, not the day-to-day grind.

7 Struggles Of Getting Work or Finishing Work

  1. If there’s a deadline, that can be a way to know you’re done
  2. Sometimes you can think you’re done, but your editor sends it back to you
  3. Work often comes in feast or famine — either more than you can handle or crickets
  4. Never give up, never surrender. As long as it’s something you find worth the effort.
    • It took Scott Edelman 44 years to get a piece accepted by Asimov’s, but he kept trying (and getting many of those works published elsewhere).
    • Or, in Joshua Bilmes’s words, “if I saw you trying to get a car unstuck from the ice like that, I’d tell you get get a tow truck.” If you’re stuck on something, maybe it’s time to try something new or get some help.
  5. Decide how much you want to prioritize your writing
    • L. Marie Wood put off starting a family because her career was getting momentum
  6. Rule 1 – never give up your day job. Selling a short story for $25 isn’t gonna pay the bills, (even if you can always resell it when the rights revert.) You need benefits. (At least in the States)
  7. Don’t be a shark in the writing world — online or at conventions. Don’t see people as connections you can use to advance your career — people will always find out if you’re using them. Network — but to make friends. And be willing to help them as much as you ask for help from them.

8 Ways To Keep Your Momentum Up

  1. Allow the first draft to suck
    • Instead of noodling over the first 3 chapters for the rest of your life, accept that the majority of the words are going to be the word “the” anyway.
  2. Have a variety of projects in a variety of stages
    • If writing one story isn’t going well, try a different one — new characters, new settings, new worlds might help
    • If fiction writer brain needs a break, maybe editor brain is good. You can do line edits if you want simple tasks, or revising and re-conceptualizing the whole piece if brainstorming is more where you’re at.
  3. Feed your creativity
    • Read books (in and out of your genre)
    • Watch shows
    • Take a walk and drink in the world around you
  4. If you can’t write what you love, see if you have other stories in you
    • L. Marie Wood writes psychological horror, but it was too close to home when she had kids. Que writer’s block for 9 years. So, she wrote other things – mysteries and gardening and other articles.
  5. When life hits you, it’s okay to pivot
    • For DH Aire, in one year his lease suddenly ended and his father was dying, so he couldn’t write book 5. Instead, he started a novella, so he didn’t have to use as much brain. It ended up at 75k words…
  6. When deadlines won’t move, try to create an outline and get the words out the best you can. Then pray you have time to edit.
  7. Give yourself permission to not be god-like. Stop telling yourself “I’m supposed to write something meaningful. Change the world. Better than anything I’ve ever written before.”  — let it go. It’s a career. You’ll learn from that story how to write a better story. But you need to move on.
    • As Scott Edelman says, he couldn’t have written his favorite story without having written the twenty before it.
  8. The pandemic has been HARD. Be kind to yourself.
    • Joshua Bilmes couldn’t get edits done during March, so he did other stuff. When writing your own work, publishers will often extend a due date, if needed. Just don’t ask this if you don’t have to.

Making It Past Those Make-Or-Break Points

Writing is a tough field. Sharing your dreams and sweat and soul with strangers and hoping for a connection. But, we all have those make-or-break points — often dozens of times — where we have to decide if we’re gonna keep going, or if we’re gonna invest our time on something with maybe a more guaranteed return-on-investment.

For Scott Edelman – He’s still got a dayjob. After writing comics in the 70s, he wanted to write his own stuff and was tired of collaborating. He’ll quit jobs that get in the way of his writing.

For Keith – As a former editor, he saw what worked, what didn’t, and what was overdone. And it gave him connections. But knowing people, while helpful just for pitching, doesn’t mean you can get away with writing things that don’t suck. It can help you know the market and know opportunities coming.

For D.H. Aire, back in ’08/’09, he was unemployed and his marriage was ending. He wondered if he was writing stories good enough to get published. So, he entered one in a little writing.com contest. He won first place and got in an ezine. Then? One of his serialized stories from writing.com got picked up by a small press. Next, he got asked to contribute to an anthology. From writing.com, to the anthology, to the conventions he hits, he’s created his own creative network that encourages him, challenges him, and lets him know where new opportunities arise.

For L. Marie Wood – The convention world is her tribe, but she’s only been back for 2-3 years. During her 9 year drought, she wasn’t here. But? When people would compliment her local paper articles or her students would ask and she could answer everything… Not keeping it to herself helped. Hearing others say that she still had it gave her the confidence to go back to her writing. “You haven’t lost it all, it’s just sleeping”


Writing is one of those things that you can always come back to. Which is part of the attraction and part of the struggle. Only you can decide if the benefits outway the costs.

Making Painful Edits

Welcome to Part 7 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

It’s hard to cut out scenes or characters that you love, but your story may be better off without them. How do you learn to recognize when something has to go, and how do you reconnect any threads that run through the parts you’re removing?

These are my notes from the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54. The panelists were: E.C. Ambrose (as moderator), Kim Hargan, Julayne Hughes, Nick Martell, and the writer guest of honor, Wen Spencer.

Editing can be painful. But it doesn’t just hurt the novice, even experienced, award-winning authors can suffer the pain.

Ways of Handling Painful Edits

Nick Martell once cut 100,000 words. Then, he basically rewrote the manuscript. He hated it at the time, but made it better. He doesn’t regret it for a minute.

Julayne Hughes – In her first short story published in an online magazine, there was a beautiful, long description… gorgeous writing and it felt like “just a punch in the stomach” to her when she deleted it. But it sold.

As an editor, she has told authors to cut chapters. She will justify the cut and the authors typically agree with her.

Wen Spencer usually walks around, stomps and screams when she needs to make painful edits.

One example: while on contract, Wen wrote 50k about a slave on a ship. Then, realized the character needed free will. So, turned her into a freelance translator. Then, realized she needed to go over there. So 2 boats, with the character working for the other boat. THEN. Threw that away and started with going off somewhere else. So, rewriting the opening is part of her process.

E.C. Ambrose prefers painful edit notes via email, not live or via phone. (A thought I 100% concur with.)

How to figure out what needs to change in your story

While the big picture can be easy to plan, the details are often where everything goes off the rails.

  • If you’ve gotten a rejection letter with a clear complaint? Start there.
  • If you outline, (and you can outline after your drafts are done), do you want it to be good or bad for the character? Usually, you want to escalate the conflict. You can also try checking your chapter pacing against beat sheets (see: Jami Gold’s great selection)
  • Does the story track? It has to be logical that the character does what they do. Although, there is a difference between what’s happening and what the character knows.
  • Ask your beta readers — one reader might be off the track, but if multiple beta readers are saying the same thing — you’ve got a problem.

Tips for those painful edits

  1. Let it set.
  2. Outline what you ACTUALLY wrote, not what you intended to write and see how that affects the pacing and character development. See if plot lines or side characters are dropped. Etc.
  3. Change the font
  4. Read it out loud (or use an app: naturalReader.com or apple accessibility features)
  5. Check your time-table/travel — don’t hesitate to map it out and use spreadsheets
  6. When making a change, start at the beginning of the scene and work your way through
  7. When cutting a scene, reread the previous chapter and the remaining sequel to make sure it still flows.
    • Note: Just because you cut a scene or setting, doesn’t mean you have to eradicate all mentions of it. Wen once HAD a magic school but left references in as a “we wish we could, it was back in the day”, that way the ruins, etc were still cultural touchstones.
  8. Make sure all your characters are needed and three-dimensional. A lot of times, especially if multiple characters are fulfilling the same role, you can consolidate those characters into one. The more reoccurring characters, the harder it is on the reader. And one shot characters don’t need names.
  9. Sometimes, you’ve gotta take the full draft, use it as a reference, but re-write and reorganize the whole thing from scratch.

No matter if you’re the one deciding to completely revamp your novel, or the suggestion is coming from a beta-reader or editor, it’s hard to set aside the pages and chapters that you spent so long on.

I do tend to overwrite, and from experience, I know that I like the finished product a lot better when I’ve streamlined my story by cutting about a fifth.

A final thought. One of the most nebulous complaints we try to fix as authors is: ‘I just didn’t connect’. While you don’t actually need to have a likable main character, you do need a relatable character. That, plus a clear setting can go a long way toward helping immerse the reader.


Have you struggled with knowing how to fix your writing? How did you figure out what was needed? And how did you fix it? Did it work?

Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back again next Thursday with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Science Fiction Has Always Been Political

Here’s Part 6 of my Virtual Balticon panel notes.

Throughout the history of science fiction and fantasy, creators have used the opportunity for imaginative storytelling to explore issues of their day. From the Twilight Zone to Alien Nation to Mass Effect, what are ways that genre stories have explored the concerns of the world in which they were made?

These are my notes from the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54. The panelists were: James Mendez Hodes (as moderator), Mary Fan, Arkady Martine, Ada Palmer, and Sarah Pinsker.

Now, while we can’t go into all the ways politics have been interwoven with science-fiction because that would be a doctoral thesis, there is a lot we can discuss.

Why Use Fiction?

Censors don’t vet “unserious media” nearly as much as they should. Science fiction and fantasy in novels, comics, or even video games can often slip past the filters.

The Panelists Discuss Their Approach To The Political

  • Mary Fan never meant to make her writing political, but that’s how it came out. Plus, as an asian minority in the states, her stuff often gets filtered through that lens — both in her writing process and in the interpretation — even when that’s not what she intended.
  • James Mendez Hodes reminds us that the ability to appear apolitical is a privilege.
    • i.e. When your life experience doesn’t match mainstream media, every way in which you are different ends up getting coated with a political brush.
  • Arkady Martine avoids politics online.
  • Ada Palmer has friends who vet comments and reviews before she sees them, because her work IS so political.

Some people have so much damage and sore spots, that they can’t read stuff that go anywhere near a subject because it’s too personal. And that’s okay. That can inform what they write, what they read, and can explain why some people lash out after reading a novel.

Things To Watch For When You’re Writing SF (or Fantasy)

There are a lot of things built into the genre, and tropes people often end up following without making it a conscious decision. They’re not bad, but they’re done a lot. You should try to contemplate why you’re using these tropes and what story you’re telling.

  • Check for imperialism
  • US supremacy
  • Do you default to a western society?
  • Is your fantasy defaulting to an anti-populist, pseudo monarchy?
  • Check your SF for consistent tech vocabulary, astronomy details, & imperialism.
  • Check your fantasy for magic consistency and feudalism
  • What are the generational relationships like? The western nuclear family has only been a thing for a brief period.
  • You can be regressive and still say powerful stuff. It depends if you’re leaning in as “those were the days” or pointing out the flaws.

Publishing itself tends to view things with a Western lens. We’re looking for individualism. The pro-active individual. And that’s cultural baggage and a political choice, even if we don’t think about it.

When you go to do your research, newer history doesn’t whitewash as much, and fills in stuff that used to be skipped.

Avoiding the ‘Afterschool Special’ Approach

All too often, when writers have a message or theme they want to imbue their story with, they worry that the audience won’t get it. So? They clobber them over the head with the message.

  1. Read older science-fiction fantasy — their outdated ideas and mores will be easier to spot and can help you evaluate how your writing might be seen by future generations.
  2. Make your story about the people. Don’t preach.
  3. Try to make sure your characters have a vested interest in the political process.
    • i.e. Maybe the society kills all second born or something
  4. Know your audience
    • Different tropes naturally fit different genres. You can skip some of the explanation if the genre is used to those tropes.
      • Such as racism in Lovecraftian Horror.
      • In manga, you can have a conversation about gender at the 202 level, but with a different audience, it’s going to need to be 101 or 401.

Recommended Books and Media:

  • Ancestral Night and Carnival by Elizabeth Bear
  • Zadig and Micromégas by Voltaire
  • Gargoyles, The Animated Series
  • Star Wars
  • Hunger Games – it did something new, showing that what was done vs what was real in a way that had only really been done in Korean dramas. Now it’s a trope, BECAUSE of its success.
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette)

Closing Thoughts

I can’t avoid politics, It’s written on my face. – Mary Fan

Every choice we make is political. – Sarah Pinsker

Everyone is embedded in a political culture. – Arkady Martine


Remember to question your assumptions, evaluate your instinctive choices, and explore new worlds and new ideas.

Intro To Self-Publishing

So you have a story and you want to publish it yourself. Let’s talk about how to get started, how to get noticed, and when you should pay a professional.

The panelists for the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54 were: Kim Hargan (as moderator), Jean Cooper, Keith Hughes, Lee Moyer, and Cerece Rennie Murphy.

Where Did Self-Publishing Come From?

Back in the olden-days, self-publishing wasn’t the do-it-yourself thing it is today. The only options used to be traditional publishing or vanity presses, where you gave them money to print your book.

Buyer-beware: vanity presses are still a thing. If you’re looking at a small-publisher, make sure they’re not asking for money upfront.

Now, especially with the advent of publish-on-demand and ebooks, self-publication has taken off.

And while the unregulated self-publish market has plenty of probably-wasn’t-ready-to-publish offerings, it’s also been a great place for quality authors as well.

Why Writers Self-Publish

Every writer’s journey is different, and when you look into it, their reasons are personal and multitude. But, some of the most common reasons writers go with self-publication are:

  1. They couldn’t find an agent or publisher — for whatever reason
  2. They write for a niche market
  3. They wanted more control over the finished product
  4. The book was already published and they’re switching formats

The 2 Most Important Tips For Self-Publishing

  1. You. Need. An. Editor.

    When you read your own work, you know so well what it’s supposed to say, that it can be easy to overlook small errors. Word, Grammerly, and The Hemmingway App can only do so much.

    If you want a professional product, pay up.

    Plus, they can do some googling and make sure that you’re not naming your character after some obscure sex act in a foreign country.
  2. You need a good cover artist

    I know, I know, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But? We all do.

    A cover can let you know what genre and which subgenre you’re reading. If you misrepresent that? You’re gonna end up with 1-star reviews because you’ve attracted the wrong audience. Plus? A poorly-done photoshopped cover makes people think of the un-edited, published-too-soon works that they’ve regretted reading.

    Sure, you could save the money, but you’ll very likely need to invest just as much or more into marketing, to make up for the sales your cover has lost you.

    While you’ll have a lot of artistic control when you hire your own artist, remember this, publishing houses usually keep the writers far away from the artists because, like it or not, the writer is usually WRONG about what the art should look like.

    Sometimes it’s best to tell the artist about the book and see what they come up with.

Ways To Market Your Self-Publishing Book

You can’t get in stores as easy as a publisher, how do you get them out there? It is a LOT of work to sell books.

  1. Online
    1. Facebook
      1. Ads
      1. live readings (1 week out, diff section on launch day)
    2. twitter
    3. instagram
    4. book bub (esp, book 2&3)
    5. Email friends/colleagues/mailing list
  2. For live events
    1. Tables at conventions
    2. Readings/Autograph sessions – if paired with other people or in busy areas
    3. bookmarks/business cards
      • Different cards for different audiences/sales approaches
      • Different cards for agents/publishers vs readers
      • Nothing on the back for wealthy customers, shiny card with the cover on the back for fans
  3. Everywhere
    1. Networking.

      Be happy to make connections.

      If someone is looking for a book and yours isn’t a great fit? Suggest other people’s work if it’s a better fit for what people are looking for. Those people — both the ones you recommend to and those whose work you recommended are a lot more likely to suggest your works to friends/family who might be the right audience for you.

      If you’re an introvert at a convention? Get there early and introduce yourself to the tables around you. Let them know if you’re new — to tabling in general or that con in specific. Be open to advice. So many people in this industry are welcoming and will be happy to welcome you.

Self-publishing is a brave choice and a tough road to walk. Best of luck finding your audience to all my writer friends — no matter who publishes you and when.


Obviously, I’m not self-published. Please! Share your experiences and tips and references if you have any! I’d love to share them.


Thanks for reading. If you found this post helpful, share it with your friends, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like to get these posts in your inbox, and I’ll be back again next week, with more writing tips and writerly musings.